16 Jul Spending Quality Time with Your Customers
Over 20 years ago, my wife and I decided to have a family. Once I made that commitment, I personally pledged to always make certain that I made time available to spend time with my kids. The only way I knew to do that was to glue myself to the ground long enough to really hang out with them.
So I created a policy that I called “Carpet Time.” At the end of every day – and I still do it to this day – I walk in the door, set down my briefcase, and sit and visit with my kids. Now this may sound corny – or even hard to believe – but I can tell you that this has been an amazing experience, for both myself and my kids.
During the 1980s, “quality time” was an oft-used “pop psychology” phrase. “Quality time” in those days was really propagated by busy parents who didn’t make time available for their children on a regular basis. They used “quality time” as a way to make up for the lack of “quantity time.” And of course, it didn’t work. Children assume that all time is “quality” – but what they’re really looking for is “quantity.”
And so it is the case with customers.
In order to understand what customers really care about – or in many cases more importantly, what could be going wrong in the course of delivering meaningful value – you have to spend Carpet Time with your customers, to see them, to feel them, to experience them. I know – it would be great to be able to computerize this process so you could get back to the business of managing operations, financials, and so on. But really, this is the “heavy lifting “that is required for sustainable health to your business.
A few days ago, my DSL service went down. I called my DSL service provider, and while on the phone, the message proclaimed, in a phrase that sounds all too familiar: “Please hold. A service representative will be with you shortly.” Then – unbelievably – it went on: “If you’re unable to connect to the Internet, please go online and look at our services at…”
Are you kidding me? The message said that if I couldn’t go online, I should go online to solve my own problem! A kindergartener could understand that that was a horrible disconnect. Yet, at the end of the service call, they gave me a 15-page “service survey” to fill out! Undoubtedly – put together by a consulting firm propagating “Customer Relationship Management.”
Wow. We have to use common sense. We have to really get to know our customers. And the only way to do that is to spend time with them.
For example, if you’re driving down an Iowa back road and you see two older gentlemen in front of a run-down country store, don’t be surprised if one of the fellows playing checkers is a new product development person with John Deere & Company. John Deere spends an amazing amount of time in the field living with their customers. They know that they don’t just sell farm equipment – they sell livelihoods. By understanding the challenges of fuel costs and efficiencies, they have been able to create the absolute best technologies in the world.
In fact, John Deere to their customers is not a product – to most John Deere owners, it’s a religious order. Truly, when you create a manufacturing company that has one of the highest revenue licensing streams in the world for its logo, because people want to wear your shirts and hats and jackets, that’s a pretty good sign that you’ve done an amazing job of systematically identifying what your customers want — and delivering it with mathematical certainty.